Dieppe, New Brunswick’s Partner Seafood, Inc. (PSI) is a production management and marketing company focused on the seafood product sector. Founder, President, and CEO Paul Farrah saw fishermen from various locations in the Maritimes having difficulty moving product into new markets; this provided an opportunity to both start a business and help his community. Farrah says his company now purchases seafood products from every corner of the globe, and exports to over 40 countries.

Founded in 2007, Partner Seafood has grown to become an Atlantic Canadian powerhouse in less than a decade. The company has been recognized as one of PROFIT 500‘s Fastest-Growing Companies in Canada (2013), as well as Progress Media‘s Fastest-Growing Companies in Atlantic Canada (2012, 2013) and Top 101 Companies in Atlantic Canada (2012-2014). Farrah himself has been recognized as one of Atlantic Canada’s Top 50 CEOs (2013-2016) by Atlantic Business Magazine.

Opportunities NB (ONB) recently spoke with Paul Farrah to learn more.

ONB: What do you consider advantages of doing business from New Brunswick?

Farrah: Land is nice and affordable here, which is good considering my other business, Xtreme Cold Storage, houses a 47,000-square-foot facility. I’ve also never had an issue with our corporate tax rates, certainly compared with some other regions.

We have good access to public sector support in New Brunswick as well. The support we’ve been able to receive from the Fisheries Department and ONB has been great. That’s not simply financial help either; it’s things like competitive intel, trade shows and trade missions, and more. It is easier to get support in a timely fashion here, which is essential for small and medium-sized businesses. I feel like that is simpler here than in larger centres like Quebec or Ontario. The demand on public sector resources in those places I think is much greater.

Fortunately, there aren’t many real disadvantages I can point to. I would say that compared to those larger centres it’s a bit more difficult to develop the kind of multilingual, multicultural staff that could help with foreign markets overseas. It’s not impossible, and we’ve managed, but it’s still a challenge.

ONB: Where are your customers now? Is the bulk of your export business in the US?

Farrah: It’s actually a pretty even spread across multiple countries; I don’t like to put all my eggs in one basket. We have a limited presence in the United States now, and we are continuing to grow tremendously in both Europe and Asia. If I had to estimate I’d say maybe 15 percent of our exports go south of the border with the balance going to Europe, Asia, Africa, and the Middle East.

ONB: You speak multiple languages. That must be a nice asset when dealing with foreign markets. 

Farrah: Absolutely, I speak both of our official languages, with Spanish, Portuguese, and Italian in the mix as well. I also have a basic knowledge of Arabic. As I noted, finding staff members that speak languages beyond English and French is something I would love to do more of. It is definitely a huge asset. There are programs available here through our universities and colleges, but it’s still a minority of people that can bring that skill to the table.

ONB: You mentioned ONB and trade shows. That must be a big part of your sales and marketing strategy.

Farrah: Absolutely. We do several shows now, often with ONB support. We have attended the Boston Seafood Show Seafood Export North America, the Seafood Expo Global in Brussels, the China Fisheries & Seafood Expo, and more.

ONB: That is certainly where industry trends get showcased. What trends in the seafood industry have you noticed recently?  

Farrah: The seafood business is getting more and more vertically oriented in terms of its distribution channels.

Also, seafood is one of the last proteins you can still harvest wild. There is increasing demand in the US and elsewhere for sustainable products, organic products, and wild products. Populations are still growing so more consumers are demanding these types of offerings. Our challenge is to make sure we have the right fishery policies in place to cope with growing demand while at the same time making sure we’re not over fishing our resources. There’s a growing importance on being sustainable and not being wasteful. We need to make sure as New Brunswickers, and as Canadians, to add as much value to our products as possible before we export. Really maximize the value of our products while still protecting raw material.

The competition is intense now, in some sectors more than others. Lobster, for example, has seen increased competition and increased demand, but not necessarily an increase in supply; there’s less actually. This is creating more intense pressure on new actors hoping to get involved in the seafood business. That competitive atmosphere is why those trade shows are so important; you need to be seen.

ONB: What’s your best advice for other local businesses looking to see your level of export success?

Farrah: Regardless of industry, face-to-face networking and hard work coupled with having the right product and distribution strategy is the key. You can work hard marketing a product that simply isn’t viable in a particular market. Likewise, you can have the most fantastic product or service in a market that would welcome it with open arms, but if you don’t have the right marketing strategy, product will remain on the shelf. This is why we are a marketing and production management business.

ONB: Beyond the language, how important is learning the culture of a target market before launching an export plan?

Farrah: It’s very important to research the culture of your target regions. You don’t want an easily avoidable faux pas to end up closing doors on you. That said, having the right product, the right marketing, and the right pricing strategy can take you pretty far.

ONB: As somebody who has founded multiple companies what’s your best advice for other entrepreneurs?

Farrah: Travel with an open mind. Look at what’s happening in other countries and in global markets, and keep a sharp eye on trends. Speaking specifically to the food sector, go into the supermarkets; see those products that are different than yours, opportunities to innovate will jump out at you.

More broadly, entrepreneurs need to try new things — rethink their industry. Copying what others are doing in your sector will only get you so far. You’ll end up in either a price war or another type of dead end. The only way to find the right angle or right product in a world that is increasingly globalized is to see what’s out there and tweak it and adapt it as best as you can for a market that’s ready for it.

Cover image via Garry Knight